Thursday, July 26, 2012

All It Takes


This story of mine appeared in Mishpacha's Sukkos Calligraphy, under the name "Newlywed Game".  It's one of my favorite stories so far, so I wanted to share it with you guys too. It came under a lot of fire from Mishpacha readers, and I'm interested to hear what you have to say.


I am a woman, at last. I look at my face, enveloped by the wavy brown sheitel.  The wig frames my narrow cheekbones; the pony masks my too high forehead. I turn my head from side to side and enjoy the swish of the silken mane. I look like any other young woman, young married woman.
"How much is this one?" I ask.
"Ah, you chose one of our best pieces. A hundred percent European hair, soft and silky. You have good taste"
Many would suck in their breath when she names the figure; I don’t. I'm prepared for the expense. I've been waiting for this day for years, too many years to count. Not in this way, no, my dreams were more fantastic, but this will have to do.
"I'll take it" I say. "When will it be ready?"
"Wonderful! This sheitel is meant for you! It fits on you like a glove. Just a wash, we'll give it. Do you want us to curl it? Many kallahs like curls, for the sheva brachos."
"No, the natural waves will be fine. But when will it be ready?"
"Don't worry sweetie, you'll have it in plenty of time for your wedding. It will be in Sivan yes, after Shavuos?"
Shavuos will be too late for my flight. I think quickly. "Lag BaOmer" I say "I'm getting married on Lag BaOmer, I'll want to pick it up before that."
"Ah, a short engagement" Ruchi the sheitel macher smiles. "No patience, ah."
Who is she to speak of patience? She looks like a teenager still, and is obviously showing. She probably got married right after seminary.
"No, you could say my patience has run out."
I look solemn as I speak, not as a blushing bride should be. Ruchi gives a nervous giggle.
-----------
What things does a married woman need?
Not much, it turns out, besides for a wig and a ring.

There is a jewelry store on my block, but a heimishe store will expect me to come on this important mission with my chassan, or at least my future shvigger. It's simpler to drive across town, to the mall, a large cement and glass structure, where nobody knows or cares that a bride is resorting to shopping by herself.
The gold glitters in the window. I never used to go into stores like these, gold and pearls were not meant for me. When I needed new earrings I went to a costume jewelry store, and bought cheap colored glass flowers set in copper, they felt less like real jewelry. Because jewelry is something a husband buys, that principle was deeply engrained in my psyche, despite my friends telling me I was being ridiculous and old fashioned.
I stare into the window now, at trinkets laid out on blue velvet, ready and waiting for an adoring husband or a starry eyed girl. I am neither, but I step closer, and the glass doors slide open, triggered by a sensor.
"How can I help you?" a man is standing behind the counter, he is short and dark skinned, with white hair growing in random tufts.
"I need a wedding ring."
"Yellow gold or white?"
"White." I decided on white gold in tenth grade, when Chumi and I planned our weddings in the back of my chumash notebook. White gold goes better with diamonds.
He lays a tray of rings on the counter in front of me. I pick up a plain band, slip it on my finger. It feels good.
"I need an engagement ring too" I say.
"Diamonds or Cubic Zirconia?"
I want to tell him diamonds, but I say "CZ".
I choose a simple ring, a plain setting with a small round stone.
The rings both fit me perfectly, they don't need adjusting. That’s me, good old Ravi, even my fingers are average.
He adds up the figures. I open my purse to pull out my credit card.
"Will you want an engraving?" he asks.
“A what?”
"An engraving on the inside of the ring. A line of poetry or something. Lots of couples are into that nowadays"
"Oh. No. That's ok, thanks." I try to smile.
_______
I stride into the shul hall, confident in my favorite beige suit. My high heeled shoes match perfectly. When you’ve been in shidduchim as long as I have, you learn to put together a chic outfit. I’m no longer the shy seminary girl on her first date- some would say the change came too late, but at least I can enjoy it now, with no pitying glances. I lean forward to pour myself a drink, and stand twirling the cup in my hand, ever conscious of the new sheitel swaying at my shoulders. I’ve flown halfway around the globe to be able to wear it.

I not only covered my ponytail. I covered my lack, my loss.  I’m not poor Ravi anymore. I’m Liora Avigail Cohen, a married woman. The name Ravi stuck with me since kindergarden, but finally I’m rid of it, and starting a new life with the new name.

A young woman comes over to me. Dina she’s called, she introduced herself as we were going into shul.
“Good Shabbos Liora. Did you enjoy the service?”
“It’s was lovely.” I say. “So spiritual.” I’m telling the truth. Finally I can daven without feeling eyes in my back, and whispers in the corners, checking how much I sway and how many tears I shed. Finally I can walk out of shul without well meaning women coming over to tell me that they pray for me, and that my pleas can open the gates of heaven.
“I’m so glad you liked it! We are really excited about having a new family in our community, I’ve been telling Tziporah and Yael all about you. Come, I’ll introduce you to them.”
Soon I’m standing right in the middle of a circle of women.  They all seem genuinely happy to meet me.
If we’d met a short while ago, they’d be throwing me pitying glances, and I’d be giving my best put-together-and-not-desparate-yet-desperately-in-need-of-a-shidduch performance. I love the sensation of freedom, freedom tinged with fear.
“Where’s your husband? Dovid you said his name was? Yitz has to meet him”, says Tziporah. The question I’ve been preparing for ever since I set this plan into action. This is the real test.
“He needs to sort out some stuff back home.” I say, keeping my voice casual. “Work stuff, you know… I came ahead to get the house ready.”
“Oh my! You poor thing. All alone for Shabbos! You have to come over to us! Don’t worry, Yitz always tells me off for making way too much cholent. “
“I couldn’t. “ I say, and then let Tziporah persuade me. Test number one passed successfully. They aren’t the least bit suspicious, why should they be?
_____
I know her as soon as I see her. My height, but wearing uncomfortable looking heels that add a few inches.  Dark brown hair falls to her shoulders in straight strands, frizzy from too much blow drying. She’s wearing nude tights, a short black skirt with beaded pink flowers, a matching pink button down sweater.
Liora sees me looking her way. “Simi Berkowitz” she whispers. “Nebach, poor girl.”
I nod. That used to be me, I was the “poor Ravi”.
“Such a shame.” She carries on “But what can we do. Levy’s friends are all married, of course. I did try suggesting her someone once. Oh, so what did you say the dressing is for your strawberry salad?”
I want to go over to her. But what can I say? “Hi Simi, can we be friends? I know what you’re going through. Maybe we can hang out some evening?” Yeah right, like I can do that. I made my choice. I look down at the shining gold rings on my finger.
“Some orange juice, a drop of honey.” I list the ingredients for my salad specialty.
______
This is the best decision I ever made.
Some of my life stayed the same. At work there are the familiar grey cubicles, and standard issue computers. The blinds are always down, and block the view outside. I could be back at headquarters, for all the difference it makes in the office. That’s global corporations for you.
And at home, well they were right, I do miss Abba and Ima, and my nieces and nephews popping in and out.
I chose an apartment that’s outside the Jewish neighborhood.  I didn’t have a choice, I couldn’t risk surprise visitors, and had to make sure no one could see who exactly is -or rather is not- coming and going. Sometimes the loneliness hits me in a wave.
But when I go out- to the Neshei play, the Chinese auction, the Simchas, every Shabbos at Shul- I live for those times.
Because finally I’m part of it, part of the community.
_____
 "Ravi, Ravi Cohen!"
I spin around.
A tall blonde woman is walking over to me. I've never seen her before, so how does she know my name, my real name? Have I been found out?
"You haven't changed a bit. Why, as soon as I saw you I was like, there’s Ravi from Camp Ditza"
I force my lips onto the semblance of a smile. She leans forward and air kisses my cheek.
I still have no idea who she is. I’ve never been good at remembering names; an advantage when it comes to dating- most boys’ names forgotten a week after going out with them, my mind left a blank fresh slate - but when it comes to female acquaintances I wish I had a better memory.
"I don't remember you being from around here." A safe, neutral, response.
She laughs, "Yeah who'd have thought that I’d end up so far from sunny L.A. Life can sure be surprising.  And what brought you to this neck of the woods?”
Camp Ditza, L.A., the pieces click into place. Shoshi something-or-other. She slept in the bunk bed on top of mine, and she got the most points at the bowling alley at night activity. Hopefully she’s not in touch with the other girls.
“Warm community, a job nearby, the usual.” I try to sound confident.
“And don’t forget the great schools.” She says with a smile.
“I don’t have kids yet, we’ve only been married a year or so.” My voice trails off.
She knows how old I am, she knows what stage of life I should be in, if my life went according to pattern, but she hides her surprise well; I’ve got to give her that. “Oh, newlyweds, so cute. It’s a great period, enjoy it!”
 “Great meeting you, we have to get together sometime!” I say in a breezy voice, inside wishing that she stay far, far, away from me in my new life.
______
The door bangs shut behind me. “I’m home.” I call out. I know there’s nobody to hear me, but I speak anyway, in my new nighttime ritual.
I drop my purse on the floor, kick off my shoes. The apartment is a mess, but who cares? I take off my Shaitel and carefully place it on the foam head. I stare at myself in the mirror, no costume now, just my familiar frizzy ponytail.
If only there really was a Dovid. If only I really did have a husband.
How long can I last here, before they get suspicious? How long can I claim my husband is away for business, or sick, or davening in the local shtiebel? When is Shoshy what’s-her-name going to call our old friends from Camp Ditza, and do the “guess-who-I-bumped-into” routine, and discover that Ravi never did get married, such a sad story.
I’ll stay as long as I can, and then I’ll move, take off, disappear. Maybe I’ll try again, somewhere else, somewhere further away. Maybe I’ll have to go back, to my old life.
But whatever happens now, I know one thing. It was worth it. For this short, wonderful period, I belonged.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Freedom


I have time. Four weeks to be precise. Wonderful beatiul amazing vacation. The reason? I quit my job. Don’t worry, I made sure first that I had a new job to go to. I'm ever concious of being the sole breadwinner of the house. But I carved out for myself this month of blessed freedom in between jobs. “To Write.” I said.

So I didn’t make plans, didn’t even commit to woking on the thesis that’s haunted me all year, freed up my diary and my days for one mission, to finish my book.

I have the most time on my hands since I started working, after college. That was a long long time ago.  I had big plans.

But so far I’ve read at least ten novels, gone to the pool, slep till midday, basically did everything except write.

The irony.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

How I Forged my EL AL Ticket


We are bumping along in the airport shuttle bus, my hand luggage clutched on my knee.



 “I’m so glad we are flying EL AL” I say happily. “The way to the states was such a nightmare with Iberia” (who knew it takes 30 hours to fly from Tel Aviv to Madrid?)

TCO just nods. Men are like that.

“Next time we are flying ELAL both ways. I can’t handle a connecting flight again. Besides, their service is so much better.”

Famous last words. If life was a movie, dramatic music would have been playing in the background at this point                              
_________

“Flying has really changed” I say to TCO, pulling out a folded pieced of paper from my purse. “Remember when you had to go to the travel agent and he’d give you a little plastic pouch with tickets that were blue ink booklets?”

Little did I know that I would soon be longing for those days. Oh, sweet 90s.
_________

We hand over our e-tickets to the EL – AL clerk behind the check in counter. She inspects them both, asks for our passports. She types away busily, calls over an older clerk. They both look at the screen, yak away in Spanish, type away some more.

“I’m sorry. She’s new at this. She is learning.” Says the older woman.

“It’s fine.” We nod, we smile.

“T?” They look at him, look at the passport.

“I reserved a window seat” he says. We reserved our seats ahead, the airline confirmed it.

“Yes, we see. One minute”

A few more keys pressed, and they print out a boarding pass for him.

Then they move on to me. More Spanish, more typing.  

Then they call over a third person. A man this time. His nametag says G.

He talks with them, looks at the screen, looks at me.

I look back. What’s wrong? Did they forget to order my Special Kosher meal?

“Your husband has a reservation. You, however, are not in the system.” He says to me.

“I’m not what?!”

“You do not appear in the system. You don’t have a place on the flight.”

“That can’t be. I confirmed my place, I confirmed my seat even. Look at the tickets – 27 A and 27 B. “

“You’re husband has seat 27 A, yes. But you don’t have a reservation. I will put you on Stand By.”

“But here’s my ticket.” I wave it at him.

“A ticket and a reservation are two different things. You have a ticket, yes. But you do not have a reservation. You are not in the system.”

“Your ticket was bought through Iberia. You’ll have to speak to them.”

“I have an EL-AL e-ticket number. How can I not be in the system?”

“Ah.” Now he is riled. “All you have is a piece of paper. That e-ticket, what is it? A piece of paper. Anyone can forge a piece of paper. You could have forged that.”

How can I answer to that? How can any passenger answer to that?

EL AL lesson #1: EL AL e-tickets are worthless, since they can be forged. How can you know you’re on a flight? Easy, hack into EL AL’s computer system. Don’t do a silly thing like trust EL AL to honor their e-ticket.

“But I need to be on this flight.”

“It’s none of my business. You should speak to Iberia. I’ll put you on Standby. That’s all I can do. But the flight is overbooked, there are no empty seats. There’s nothing I can do.”

“Ahah. “ TCO pipes up. “So you are admitting we have a reservation, if you are giving her a standby ticket! Why would you give her a standyby ticket if you think she forged the e ticket?”

EL-AL Lesson #2: Don’t use logic.

 “I don’t care what you are saying.“ says G. “I don’t care. I’m not listening. I told you, you don’t have a place on the flight. That’s it.”

“How about in Business class?” TCO asks. “Since you lost my wife’s reservation, you should upgrade her to Business class.”

This is the part where I start fantasizing about being upgraded to Business class. I mean, EL AL messed up, now they’ll have to find a solution. Silly me.

“We only upgrade EL AL passengers. You are an Iberia passenger. She will have to be standby”

“OK. So how about you upgrade one of your EL AL passengers to business class, and then give me her economy seat?”

Om second thought, I don’t care about flying Business class at this point. I just want to get home and out of this dark comedy. I’d go in the cattle cart if there was one.

EL AL Lesson #3: Don’t try and find a creative solution. Do not even consider trying to find a solution. 

“There are no empty seats in Business class. The whole plane is full. Full! There is no room for you.” G doesn’t even check the computer. He prefers shouting at us.

“Listen, you made a mistake, we accept that. But now how are you going to solve it?”

“I told you. The plane is full. Speak to Iberia. It is not my problem. I have to go now, the plane is boarding. Bye Bye”

G. is yelling. The other clerks, stand around, embarrassed. Then he strides off. We don’t know what to do, if we try going to Iberia, it will be too late, the plane is boarding soon.

Then our guadian angel comes along. The older clerk from before.

She steps up, whispers to us. “I will help you. I will find you a place. Don’t worry.”

Her face is kind. She isn’t shouting at us. She isn't claiming I forged my ticket.

She calls Iberia (something G. wouldn't deign to do) . “They have your reservations.”

She calls EL AL reservations “Your reservation is missing from the EL AL system. There must have been a failure in saving your Iberia reservation in the EL AL reservation system.”

A bug in communications between the two systems. It happens. It could be Iberia’s fault, and could be EL AL’s. Who knows.  I just know I'm caught in the middle.

EL AL Lesson #4: Don’t fly with a codeshare 

“There are empty business class seats, but I can’t give you one without my manager’s permission” G. is the manager, so no high hopes on that one.

She checks in the computer. “Some passengers have not shown up, I’ll give you their seats.”

“Here is a standby ticket. Meet me at the boarding gate and I’ll make sure you are on the flight.”

We trust her. We rush through passport control, and duty free. Find our angel at the boarding gate.

G., the manager, sees us and glares. We ignore him.

Boarding. The moment of truth. We go to the desk, she hands me a ticket. “I’m sorry you’re not next to each other. “ She apologizes. “But I tried to make sure you are close.”

We thank her again and again. I want to hug her.We board the plane.

And that kids, is how you “forge” an EL AL ticket.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Taking Time

My friend is getting married next week. She's the last of the "chevra" to cross over to the dark side. It's her shower.We are sitting around a table piled high with wrapped up pots and pans and peelers.

"I want you all to give me advice now", she says ."One tip for a good marriage from each of you"

I suppose being the last to marry has its advantages. Not only do we know to give her already toiveled dishes, but apparantly we also can share advice. Well they can. I'm still a rookie.

One by one they mention giving to your husband and caring about him and encouraging him and all those other good traits

"It's important to still leave time for yourself" I say when it's my turn "Just because you enjoy being together doesn't mean you won't sometimes need your own space, your own time for the things you like to do"

The others look at me like they pity TCO, like I'm a selfish wife. I blush. Who knows, maybe I am.

I just learned that there are things I have to do, that are oxygen to me. Once I was married I forgot about them, I thought I didn't need them anymore. But I was wrong. The tranquility of diving into a swimming pool, churning through the water and letting thoughts bubble up. The high I get from writing, that nothing else gives me.

My newlywed friend has different outlets and needs. I hope she doesn't forget them.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

In Real Life

I found this post in my Ipod. It was written "735 days ago". That's back when I was single, skeptical of ever finding the right guy through a Shidduch date, and meeting quite a few of my online readers.

You read my blog. You like it, that's why you carry on reading it. You want to meet me.

You have this picture of me in your head.

You expect me to be vibrant and energetic. You expect me to be bubbly and charismatic. You expect me to be like my writing. I'm not. I'm quiet,  I speak softly. Often I don't speak at all, because I'm still thinking.

You either expect me to be rebellious and critical of society (based on some of my posts), or you think I'm flipped out, like my name( which was chosen by mistake, but that's another story).

I'm neither. I'm just another frum girl. The type you wouldn't look at twice if you passed in the street. I do have some criticism of society, but so do most people, they just don't bother to voice theirs.


And I think most bloggers are the same. We are good writers. But writing and speaking are two different skills.

We aren't pretending. We are like our blogs, but only inside. And only in one facet of ourselves.

Carry on drawing pictures of us in your heads. But know they are probably wrong.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Fading Newlywed Bliss

Will this last forever?

I'm estatic, elated. I straighten my shaitel, half skip, half run.  I'm on the way home to my husband. I'm married, really married! And I have the most wonderful husband in the whole wide world.

Life feels like a dream. It's too good to be true. When did this happen, when did everything change, drastically and amazingly?  I'm scared I'll wake up.

Newlywed bliss; an enchanted fairytale that the two of you are living in. Everything’s wonderful, everything’s perfect. You're married! 

I wondered how it would end, when the happiness would dissipate. Sheer amazingness couldn't last, they told me.

"How are you?" My long married friends asked
"I'm so happy!" I said
"Yeah, newlyweds…"
"Don't you feel the same?"  I asked them

I didn't understand. Why should the happiness end, if you're supposed to be loving each other more and more, not less and less. Shouldn't you be becoming even more happy, as your marriage grows older?

Now I understand. It's not that your marriage wanes, it's just that life begins to infringe.

There are small things. You feel sorry for yourself because of tooth aches and the flu. You have worries and decisions- buying a house, taking out a mortgage, changing jobs.

You have to deal with finances, budgets, things that didn’t exist beforehand.

I’m still happy. Baruch Hashem! I want to thank God every day. But it’s not the same as in the beginning. I have to work a bit now, to forget the small worries, and appreciate my miracle.


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

I'm Free


I’m free. I can do whatever I want. I don’t have to listen to anyone, I don’t have to care what anyone thinks of me. (Except for TCO, but then we agree on most things, so that works.)

I savor it. My short period of freedom.

I’m not in school, ducking into a store when I see a teacher or a classmate in the distance, anyone who will report my long jeans skirt, strictly forbidden by my Israeli Bais Yaacov.

I’m not in Seminary, I can’t get kicked out for speaking a boy. (Not that I ever did.)

Best of all – I’m not in Shidduchim.  I can go to a wedding with no makeup, I can be unfriendly to annoying yentas, I can even make shocking and controversial statements comparing the Shidduch scene to an auction.

We live in a mixed, non Charedi, neighborhood.  I could do cartwheels in the street and nobody would care. I wear a baggy old skirt and glasses to the supermarket. I never go to anywhere just to “meet people”.  When I try to decide if my outfit is tznius, I only have one criteria – God. Not the shadchans, not the rabbis, not society.
I should enjoy it while it lasts.

The cycle will start again. Maybe we'll move to a religious neighborohood, and start caring about the neighbors.We’ll need our kids to be accepted, first to Cheiders and Bais Yaacovs, where they’ll check the length of my Sheitel and if I wear black tights, and do we have internet at home. The next stage is Seminaries and Yeshivas, an especially tough scene in competitive Jerusalem. Some mothers stop driving, some fathers change Shuls, anything to pass the test. Then our kids will be in Shidduchim, by which point we’ll need to pray we are millionaire saints, living the holy kollel lifestyle in style, with enough money set aside to buy eligible son in laws.


It’s easy to tell me I should always do what’s right, never listening, never caring. But there’s the right way, and the smart way. I’d rather be smart.

But meanwhile –I don’t have to be anything I don’t want to be. I’m free.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Five ways to show I'm not Pregnant


1.Throw back shots of whiskey. Liquor will do too. Anythig with high alchohol content. If no drinks are available, complain loudly about lack of booze.

2. Tell tall tales of extreme sports. Recent bungee jumps or skydiving is best. If the most adventurous you've been is walking up the steps insead of taking the elevator, lie loudly or make fictitious plans for next week.

3.Ostentatiously carry packs of feminine hygiene products into bathroom. Enough said. 

4. Ask to be the kvatter at a Brit

5. Leave a packet of contraceptive pills lying around

What not to do:

- Wearing tunic tops or any form of baggy clothes is stricly forbidden. Wear tight and form fitting clothes only. (Sorry rabbi.)

- Never be sick, Ever. If you are sick, don't tell anybody. Nausea is off limits, whatever virus you have.

Don't say I didn't warn you.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Yeshiva Guys are Pedophiles

Events of the past week have fortified my belief. Yeshiva guys are all pedophiles. And so are their moms.

I get a frantic phone call from Mrs. Mom-of-Yeshiva-Guy.

“She’s 25! 25, not 24!”
 “Oh.”
 “Does she look her age?”
“Her age?”
 “You know, does she still look young, or does her age show?”

 Her age. In any other western society except for the one I live in (and possibly Mormons too) twenty five is considered young. In fact, women are considered to peak in the late twenties and early thirties – according to Cosmolitan. Check out the average age of most female celebrities (who aren’t exactly famous based on their IQ)

 But Yeshiva guys like them young. High school girls are illegal, but the good news is that most eighteen and nineteen year olds, fresh out of seminary in their sweatshirts and ponytails, still look like high school girls (and sound like them too)

 Then there’s the fact that by the time an average Charedi woman hits her mid twenties, she’s after three pregnancies, and hasn’t had a decent night’s sleep in who knows how long. Plus she’s wearing a scarf, or at best a wig. Let’s just say she’s had prouder moments, looks wise (Nachas wise is another thing, we’re being shallow here).

 So yeah, maybe the typical Charedi woman in her mid twenties looks ten years older than her biological age. But please don’t generalize about the rest of us. When we find grey hairs, we’ll let you know.